The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Forced Criminal Activities along Mexico's Eastern Migration Routes and Central America Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies


After Veracruz, the next stop in the migrant route is Apizaco, in the state of Tlaxcala. Media outlets have often reported on human trafficking cases taking place in Tlaxcala. Cases of human traffickers moving victims from Tlaxcala to the United States are numerous.

The migrant route, following the freight train tracks, leads to Apizaco. As a transit point in the route, the city of Apizaco does not have a significant migrant population. Nevertheless, human trafficking for sexual labor is a widespread practice in the state. Most of human trafficking victims in Tlaxcala are Mexican women rather than foreign migrants.

Tlaxcala has a long history of families operating human trafficking and smuggling rings, but there are differences between trafficking targeting Mexicans in Tlaxcala and trafficking targeting foreigners along the migration route. Experts said that victims of human trafficking in Tlaxcala usually come from small towns in the state. Other victims come from the states of Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí and Guadalajara. Mexican victims can be found working in local bars and brothels, while others are moved to the United States to be sexually exploited there.

Experts studying human trafficking in the state of Tlaxcala have explained to us the modus operandi of local traffickers. Young men belonging to trafficking rings seduce local women, and they eventually convince their victims that they should live together. Finally, the traffickers suggest that the women should find employment to help with household’s finances. This is how they are convinced to work in local bars and nightclubs. Most women end up being sold to bar and club owners, who force them into prostitution. Human traffickers charge their victims for expenses such as housing, food, clothing, and protection, leading to unpayable debt. These human trafficking networks are believed to operate across the country. Traffickers frequently move their victims to different cities.

Unlike Mexican human trafficking victims, prostitution networks bring their Central American victims to Tlaxcala. The networks move these women in from the areas of the country where they were originally abducted. A researcher we interviewed in Apizaco told us that the Zetas control a trafficking network of women, but they do not follow the same modus operandi of the Tlaxcala rings. Some Central Americans become human trafficking victims after failing to pay cartels for safe passage. Others are promised employment in Mexico by their coyotes, and are then forced into sex servitude once they arrive in the country. The Apizaco migrant shelter staff told us that they had not heard of any human trafficking cases from migrants staying there.

Currently, there is no sign of human trafficking for criminal activities occurring in Tlaxcala. From 2009 to 2011, according to interviewees in Apizaco, the Zetas were present in the city. Until 2012, there were reports that the Zetas charged other criminal groups to operate in territories they controlled in the state.  Currently, it is not clear if criminals claiming to be the Zetas and operating in Tlaxcala indeed belong to the cartel. The Zetas are known for their violent modus operandi, which has been absent in Tlaxcala since 2012.